In this inaugural edition of Concrete Ideas, an architectural series highlighting creative and emblematic buildings in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, we stop by a cafe that has become a symbol in the fight for Chișinău’s public spaces: Guguță.
Named after a beloved Moldovan children’s book character in 1981, the cafe was built in the late 1970s by architects Serghei Lebedev and Nicon Zaporojan. Located in the city’s central park, Guguță was groundbreaking for its time: its facade imitated a spaceship, different storeys had distinct themes, while the table areas took on their own idiosyncratic shapes. Walls on the first floor were painted with murals based on fairytale illustrations by celebrated artist Igor Vieru. Multi-purpose, stylish, and one of Soviet Chișinău’s few venues dedicated to children and young people, Guguță quickly became popular, with families queuing for ice cream and juice.
Fastforward to the 90s, and, with growing competition in the newly-liberated economy, the cafe found a new crowd, becoming a favourite for end-of-year school-organised celebrations, and attracting young people thanks to its cheap drinks.
But in 2007, the ultra-central cafe was closed and allowed to fall into disrepair, following a series of opaque privatisation deals. In 2018, city authorities approved the demolition of the architectural emblem, allowing the private company Regatta Imobiliare to build an office block in its place. The decision sparked the formation of a civic movement, OccupyGuguță: a nod to the American Occupy movement. It sees the cafe’s demolition as a threat to Chișinău’s central park, and public spaces as a whole. Joined by a series of NGOs, the group of activists demand that the cafe be restored and put into public hands again. While they managed to get the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, and the municipal authorities to revoke their permit for demolition, Regatta has sued the institutions. The trial is ongoing.